Benefit Fraud: The step-by-step process you can expect if accused

With the new year brings a new raft of emails landing in our inbox from people who have been accused of benefit fraud. Many of them have had their benefits suspended as a result, and the year has gotten off to a worrying and unstable start.

Many of them are concerned that they will not be able to pay bills or even feed their children, and if this sounds all too familiar to you, take comfort in the fact that it’s our priority to help you.

While we give very specific, tailored advice to each of our clients and their cases, there is some general information we can give you about the process you’re likely to go through if you’re being investigated.

We want to arm you with as much information as possible about this, so that you get off to a better start in 2017. Only by understanding what happens next, will you be able to deal with the complex and lengthy process.

I’ve received a letter – what does this mean?

If you are being investigated for benefit fraud, chances are that the process has already been set in motion. The letter will have come from either the Council or the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) stating the date and location of the Interview Under Caution, your right to consult a lawyer, you right to attend with someone and the contact details of the investigations team.

It is important to note here that you will not be told anything further about your case, why you are being investigated and so on, until you are already in the situation where they can question you.

The authorities are granted permission to look into almost any area of your life they wish in order to obtain evidence; from your NHS records to your social media accounts, pretty much every body you are affiliated with can be looked into.

Some of the most bizarre cases of benefit fraud include:

  • Amanda Barrymore, who claimed thousands of pounds in unemployment benefits despite making a living out of her apparent ‘psychic’ ability to communicate with the dead
  • Ann Grigor, who was caught speeding, claimed benefits due to the fact she was supposedly wheelchair bound, blind and needed round-the-clock care
  • Maria Hughes received £42,000 in disability benefits, claiming her arthritis was so bad that she couldn’t walk. However, footage captured her jet-setting lifestyle as a professional bodybuilder on camera

Of course, these represent some of the extreme cases where people have clearly attempted to defraud the system, and there are a huge number of people who are wrongly accused of benefit fraud.

If at this point you’re wondering “I’ve received a letter but there must be a mistake – I haven’t committed any fraud” there could be a variety of reasons why this has occurred. In some circumstances, it could be an error in the system, and in others, someone could have reported you.

Interviews Under Caution

It is highly likely that your letter will invite you to attend an Interview Under Caution, where you will be formally interviewed under the provisions of PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act).

This means that the interview will be tape recorded, and therefore used as evidence and played in court (if your case proceeds to court), however it also means that you have the right to free and independent legal advice, which is why consulting a legal professional beforehand is a must.

Although we would always recommend that you never attend an interview, if you were to do so, when you arrive at the venue you will be met by two investigations officers, and invited into a room for the formal interview.

Crucially, if you do not attend with a legal consultant, you will only be informed of the alleged case against you once the interview begins. However, if you have a lawyer, they will be given disclosure about your case before the interview begins, which gives you a much greater understanding of the charges against you, allowing you to prepare.

During the interview, you’ll be asked probing questions regarding your claim, and will be shown evidence that they have gathered from the variety of sources we described above. These interviews are notorious for being far from civil though.

It might seem like a simple process, but in reality, many have complained that they were treated rudely, viciously and left feeling embarrassed and as though they had been forced into admitting things due to the high-pressured and intense environment.

Once the interview concludes, a decision about whether a “recoverable overpayment” exists will be made by a separate department, and you’ll receive a letter informing you of the overpayment amount. It is vital that you consult a professional at this point also, as they will be able to advise you on whether or not you would have a case for appeal.

Who can I turn to?

While it is not compulsory to have legal representation when being investigated for benefit fraud, this is a very complicated area of law. With rules and restrictions that are constantly changing, it can be very difficult for most people to understand.

A benefit fraud investigation is also still a formal criminal investigation, and I doubt that any of our readers would consider being interviewed by the police without a lawyer – this is much the same thing.

Our team of legal experts make it their job to keep abreast of the industry, and are always reviewing the processes currently in place, so that we can give the most up-to-date information possible to our clients whilst offering the best defence and advice.

With this in mind, many people find it far more comforting to hire this kind of intricate and specialist knowledge, and we would always advise getting in touch with us as soon as possible so that we can assess your case before it develops too far.

For example, as we reviewed above, Interviews Under Caution can be incredibly stressful, intimidating and even upsetting experiences, and we will always ensure that you never have to attend one. Instead, we put together a package of support documents for your case and submit these to the investigations department instead; it’s this kind of in-depth knowledge that will save you a very painful experience.

If you’re caught up in the midst of a benefit fraud investigation, the best thing to do is to seek our advice as soon you can. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at [email protected].

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